In a retail era where digital and physical are increasingly overlapping, one US startup has neatly combined both with an innovative idea that’s taking the sector by storm.
Known as ShopShops, the startup is using live commerce to reach a whole new market for American retailers while satiating the shopping needs of an enthusiastic Chinese audience.
So, what is live commerce and how are players like ShopShops changing the retail landscape?
What is live commerce?
Live commerce is a combination of online retail, e-commerce and video live streaming. It allows retailers to showcase products in real time, answer questions and take immediate orders online.
Its popularity has been driven by markets like China where the world’s largest e-commerce platform Taobao connects retailers and producers with consumers, using a standalone app and live streaming features.
Wowza notes the trend promises to transform retail in a similar way to the advent of e-commerce 20 years ago.
In the case of live commerce, “this convergence of video and shopping helps improve engagement, close the gap between customer and product, drive sales, and — in cases where bidding is involved — increase the average sales price”.
In 2017, a new take on this trend was presented in the US. Pioneered by Parsons graduate Liyia Lu, who had grown up in China and the US, it was known as ShopShops and its aim was to connect Chinese consumers with American retailers using live streaming.
The idea sees ShopShops prearrange then host events at retail outlets. Armed with smartphones ShopShops hosts spend time instore asking questions and trying items on or testing them out.
As the National Retail Federation explains: “All of this is live-streamed to consumers in China. They send questions to the host: Does it come in other colors? Can we see that in a different shade? Would you ask her to lean a little closer to the camera?
“And they buy things, right there on the spot. ShopShops accepts payment, collects their commission, packages the product and mails it to the purchaser in China. It’s sort of like American e-commerce, except it’s interactive and there are no returns.”
Each session can potentially draw 30,000-40,000 Chinese viewers and potential customers. In the interim, it not only allows global and interactive retail but also enables merchants to test products in new markets prior to release.
ShopShops explains the concept has three key components: hosts who manage the Livestream events, acting as stylist, fit model and translator to the viewers; stores which have the opportunity to host two-hour live events and open their doors to thousands of global customers; and viewers who tune into the Livestream events to shop the world from the palm of their hands..
The success of the concept has seen ShopShops grown to encompass offices in New York, Los Angeles and Beijing. The company has more than 300 hosts, does 20 to 25 events a day, and is active around the clock except for the hours between 2am and 6am China time.
More to come
ShopShops isn’t the only US player embracing the Livestream trend. In 2019 Amazon launched Amazon Live, which allows retailers to host their own Livestream events and connect with a digital audience.
Last year also saw the launch of Shopping Party, which looks to recreate the traditional experience of shopping with friends at a shopping mall.
The virtual mall experience combines scrolling products on display, and live videos of influencers promoting each item, along with a chat box for viewers to ask questions.
In the future, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are expected to further amplify the trend.
For the retailers taking part, live stream offers a wealth of exciting possibilities where the lines between digital and physical become more blurred and the customer could feasibly be anywhere in the world